Earlier this week, Major League Baseball approved a rule to eliminate the need for a four-pitch intentional walk. Instead teams will signal from the dugout that they want to issue a walk to the batter and the batter would be awarded first base without seeing a pitch. Thoughts on this particular rule have ranged from anger to apathy. Even the PSA staff is divided on the issue, with the majority against what is seemingly an unnecessary change. Others, like myself, see the change as so minuscule that it doesn’t seem like a big deal.
On the surface and on its own this change is small, but it’s part of an overall initiative on MLB’s part to improve the pace of play in games. It’s not that the games are long, it’s that they’re “slow.” And instead of having to watch a pitcher throw four meaningless pitches, MLB thinks they can keep the action going by just giving the hitter first. In addition to their thoughts on this particular matter, people around baseball have chimed in on their own ideas about pace of play.
Normally I’d think it’s an awful idea to follow the NFL’s example in any matter, but if done right this one may not be so bad. While Girardi didn’t get into the full specifics, he outlined ways it could possibly work.
“You’d put earpieces in certain people. You could put it, realistically, in your hitters’ helmets and you could say what you wanted and then it’s not a sign from me, a sign to the third base coach and then a sign to the player.”
As Girardi goes on to point on, giving and reading signs takes time. Time is spent on dummy signs, batters stepping out of the box to read signs, and catchers going back and forth to the mound. Sign mix-ups and sign stealing wouldn’t be issues anymore. The game would keep moving and time would be spent more efficiently.
Headsets would grant pitchers and catchers the ability to communicate without hand signals. Though that could potentially change the way the game is played. Since catchers wouldn’t want to verbally communicate a game plan with a batter standing right there, Bless You Boys’ Cody Warner points out that pitchers could end up calling most of the game:
“Also could actually shift the majority of game calling from the catcher to the pitcher. You don't want the catcher telling the pitcher which pitch to throw, verbally. Not with the batter standing right there. So the pitcher would cover his mouth, say what he wants to throw, and the catcher would confirm with a nod or shakeoff. Opposite of the current system.”
I subscribe to the notion that a catcher probably knows what’s working for a pitcher better than the pitcher does. It’s their job. Catchers also spend more time studying different batters and their patterns, so I’d hope calling games would stay in the hands of catchers. Though that doesn’t mean pitchers wouldn’t have use for a headset. Catchers could still call a pitch and the pitchers could use the headset to counter that point with their reasoning, allowing the catcher to think of something else.
Though getting the players to agree to this would be a battle itself. Baseball players, especially pitchers, are notoriously particular. Everything needs to be just right, or else it could mess up their whole game. Alex Torres gained notoriety for becoming the first pitcher to try using a new cap that would protect pitchers’ heads from a line driving coming back and drilling them in the head.
One would think that because of the potential safety benefits more pitchers would have at least given this a shot. Yet because of how different it looks and probably feels, it never really caught on. Imagine now telling them they have to wear an earpiece or a helmet of sorts to communicate. Not an easy task.
Sure any change of this magnitude would have to be rigorously studied and tested before implementation, but it could work. Change is not always bad. As I said earlier, I don’t mind MLB changing the intentional walk rule. I wouldn’t be against Girardi’s headset idea either. I actually see headsets as being beneficial. It would help shorten games and speed up the pace to satisfy MLB, but in a way that benefits teams as well.
I think baseball is fine the way it is, though I understand why Rob Manfred is looking for a change. There is an overall stigma that baseball is “slow” and “boring.” As PSA’s Greg Kirkland points out, the problem is being noticed more and more because society as a whole is growing more impatient. The internet has made us impatient. “Why wait if we don’t have to?” If MLB wants to keep making money, they have to find a way to keep the attention of a society with no attention span.
Is Joe Girardi on the right track? Would MLB adapting headsets be a good or bad thing?